CHRIS MILLS. Mobile Workers Stampede from the City to the Bush.

Oct 29, 2018

Remember when Australia was a nation of makers?  As in: the Sydney Harbour Bridge, the Snowy Mountains Scheme, Holdens and the Opera House?  Imagine the productivity increase if Australia had a mobile army who would deploy across the country to provide skilled workers where, when and for as long is required.  Fruit pickers, mobile phone tower erectors, wind and solar renewable generator constructors, road and rail builders, mine developers are examples.  When the work is done, the mobile workforce moves to the next location needing their services. Many people struggling to find affordable housing and employment in overcrowded cities would find work and accommodation across Australia, and the drudgery of city commuting would be eliminated.

To build a ‘Mobile Workforce Australia’ (MWA), an ‘Enterprise Australia’ initiative is required.  The Concept-of-Operations is that an enterprise or agency requiring a mobile workforce would register their requirements with a Mobile Workforce Australia Agency which would then recruit and dispatch workers.  The Workers would travel to the work area in purpose-designed caravans and be accommodated in caravan parks also purpose-designed for a mobile workforce.  Movers provide optional towing services between locations and transport for the Workers between the caravan parks and the worksite. A mobile phone application provides the ‘glue’ for workforce registrations, work assignments, repayment for the purchase of caravans, towing and taxying, park fees and payment for work completed.

Let’s have a more detailed look as the components of an integrated mobile workforce system, starting with the caravans.  These would be designed to provide a comfortable mobile home, and would include amenities like air conditioning, shower, toilet, stove with an oven, dishwasher, washing machine, a combined television and computer workstation and internet connections.  Ideally, a home away from home.  The suspension should allow for towing over country dirt roads.  Two or three sizes should be offered to accommodate singles, couples and families.  A ‘one manufacturer, one design – many sales’ approach provides economy of scale to reduce costs.  There is a Western Australia manufacturer which could provide such a design; they are in the process of relocating from Perth to Brisbane.  Perhaps an enterprising South Australian Government could entice them to stop in Elizabeth and move their operation into the abandoned Holden car factory.

The MWA should be family-friendly.  In locations without schools, children could be enrolled in the School of the Air.  Mobility can disrupt the education of spouses, and a University – TAFE of the Air could fill the gap.  Some locations will be remote and here the NBN Sky Muster will provide entertainment, education and communications.

The next MWA component to consider is purpose-designed caravan parks.  These would be structured to receive the purpose-designed caravans, and have plumbing, power, cooking gas and communications utilities placed to receive the standard-build caravan fittings. Plug and play housing!  Park-Operators would provide facilities such as camp kitchens and a leisure centre and playground for socialisation. Space between sites would allow room for annexes to improve the quality of life – even the largest caravan can become cramped, especially if families are part to the mobile workforce.  Some sites could have carports.  A tall Colourbond fence around the parks would improve security and control winds.

Providing a string of Parks would be boot-strapped by specialist Park-Builders, moving from site to site with the dedicated equipment and acquired knowledge from building the purpose-designed MWA caravan parks.  In continuous but shifting mobile jobs such as this, unskilled workers could enter apprenticeships, upskilling and completing their TAFE education through the communications built into the caravan, accessing the School of the Air TAFE to gain qualifications.

Some MWA participants might not want the expense and complication of a tow vehicle – this is where the Movers play their part.  After receiving an assignment, a Worker would lodge a request through the MWA App with MFA Management for a tow.  The price could be a set rate of cents per kilometre, perhaps with different rates for different parts of the country, to reflect the cost of fuel and the need to return without a payload.  Movement tracking could be an inbuilt GPS tracker in the caravan, communicating via satellite. Another movement service is to taxi the MFA Workers to the worksite location which can change as fruit ripens, road and rail construction moves on. A persistent Regional complaint is lack of public transport services.  A microbus taxi, again with a fixed rate, could provide the service.

Where would the MWA Workers come from?  Here there is scope for some social engineering.  The growing chorus to move workers from cities to the country could result in selection preference being given to city dwellers, placing them on a contract to provide country work over an extended time. Migrants could receive a visa provided they became a MWA worker for a designated time or hours worked.  

Currently, there is a substantial working population of seasonal workers from the Pacific Islands.  This employment provides a dual benefit – the Islanders provide a reliable workforce and much-valued income to their families left on their island home.  As MWA participants, they could bring their families to provide additional workers and income, living comfortably in the Caravan Park and moving location as work becomes available.  Homeless, mature-unemployed and long-term unemployed might be given a go. There would also be scope for new migrants and refugees who would be accepted, provided they became MWA participants for a qualifying period.

Now the $64,000,000 question – how would MWA be funded?  An often-quoted rule is ‘User Pays’.  A better rule is ‘Beneficiary Pays’.  Start with the caravans where benefit accrues to the builder, the MWA participants, the State where the caravans are built, the enterprises employing MWA Workers and the Commonwealth Government where Regional employment reduces social welfare and increases taxation revenue.  The Commonwealth could provide loans for the purchase of a caravan.  An enterprise or even a Regional Council could provide loans tied to the MWA Workers providing labour to the Council’s Region.  These loans could be repaid at a fixed rate (e.g. $5-$10 per hour worked) recovered through the MWA App. 

The MWA Agency could consider both Buy and Rent access, the latter might appeal to backpackers and Islanders who return home after the season is over and could attract investors who purchase a caravan to create rental income. Similarly, Mover’s vehicles could be funded with loans which would be repaid as a levy on transport income.

The Caravan Parks could also be ‘Beneficiary Pays’ funded.  In regions where there is seasonal work, a Council could fund the Park construction and a levy on MWA Workers’ income be paid to the Council, again through the MWA App, for each hour worked.

Finally, there is the transformative power of Social Networks.  All MWA Participants would be joined to a MWA social network, so they could communicate experiences, providing a ‘learning enterprise’ environment and a sense of belonging to a community spread across with common interests.  Caravaners often join such associations in large numbers and benefit from the socialisation.

Modern technology, especially the Smart Phone, is a singularly powerful way of implementing MWA as a system of systems.  The MWA App would bring the system elements together, providing a Banking service to the MWA Participants.  It is startling to see how quickly PayWave has been adopted across Australia.  Using the Near Field Connect communications of modern Smart phones would facilitate financial transaction across the MWA – the employer authorises a payment and holds the phone near the workers phone, funds are transferred, and the job is done.  Any loan repayments and levies due are also transferred at the time of the transaction, e.g. returning payment to the Commonwealth Government and Council lenders.  

Movers would be paid the same way, with GPS tracking used to calculate the transport fees. Park fees would be paid through the App.  Park-Operators would be paid and paying their costs through the MWA App. MWA Workers and movers would not be required to compile a taxation return, as the MWA App would lodge it for them. No paperwork required here – another saving for the employers and MWA Workers, Movers and Park-Operators.  

Australia is in a state where there are surplus workers in overcrowded cities and unfilled employment opportunities in Regional locations.  Creating Mobile Workforce Australia from the elements of an MWA Agency, Caravan Builders, recruited and assigned Workers, Caravan Park Builders and Operators, Movers, Employers and Bankers, all connected by a network of Smart Phones and a very intelligent Application.  Productivity Plus for Australia.

Chris Mills is a MSc in Systems Management and is a systems designer and builder.

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